Musical Meaning within Super Semantics
Philippe Schlenker
November 2020

As part of a recent attempt to extend the methods of formal semantics beyond language ('Super Semantics'), it has been claimed that music has an abstract truth-conditional semantics, albeit one that has more in common with iconic semantics than with standard compositional semantics (Schlenker 2017, 2019a, b). After summarizing this approach and addressing a common objection (here due to Leonard Bernstein), we argue that music semantics should be enriched in three directions by incorporating insights of other areas of Super Semantics. First, it has been claimed by Abusch 2013 that visual narratives make use of discourse referents akin to those we find in language. We argue that a similar conclusion extends to music, and we highlight it by investigating ways in which orchestration and dance may make cross-referential dependencies more explicit. Second, we show that by bringing music semantics closer to the semantics of visual narratives, we can give an account of the semantics of mixed visual and musical sequences. Third, it has been claimed that co-speech gestures trigger characteristic conditionalized presuppositions, called 'cosuppositions', and that their semantic status derives from their parasitic character relative to words (Schlenker 2018a,b). We argue that the same conclusion extends to some instances of film and cartoon music: it may trigger cosuppositions that can be revealed by embedding film excerpts or gifs in sentences so as to test presupposition projection. We further argue that under special discourse conditions (pertaining to certain Questions under Discussion), pro-speech gestures and pro-speech music alike can trigger cosuppositions as well. These results suggest that new insights can be gained not just by extending the methods of semantics to new objects, but also by drawing new connections among them.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/004937
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Accepted with minor revisions in Linguistics & Philosophy
keywords: music, music semantics, musicology, anaphora, cosuppositions, picture semantics, visual narratives, co-speech gestures, co-film music, co-gif music, pro-speech music, co-speech gestures, pro-speech gestures
previous versions: v3 [July 2020]
v2 [January 2020]
v1 [December 2019]
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